This past January the fine jewelry industry said goodbye to a true gem. Thirty-year industry veteran Corinne Herbst, lost her gallantly fought battle with cancer leaving her family, co-workers, clients and friends sad, but grateful for her contributions to their lives. Corinne’s love of gemology, unique jewelry design and her passion for hand-created art culminated into an upscale, eclectic gallery that has become a mainstay in downtown Decatur, GA. But it is Corinne who has endeared herself to her Decatur neighbors.
“Corinne was a joy to know – full of vitality and warmth. A generous force in all ways, she gave to the International Community School for our South Africa-themed auction. She wasn’t merely a shop-owner. She was someone you enjoyed having in your life.” -Angie Hale, customer and friend.
“Corinne was such a warm and lovely presence. We often stopped in and loved bringing out of town guests to shop at Alexia. Corinne was so full of life and always had a smile and welcome hug. She supported local fund raisers and was a true community spirit. She will be sadly missed.” -Leanne Rubenstein, client and friend.
Corinne opened Alexia Gallery 7 years ago after starting in the industry back in the early ‘80s. Her natural interest in colored stones drove her to obtain her gemology certificate many years ago, but it wasn’t until she visited a tourmaline mine in Palomar, California, that passion ignited into design. Her oldest son, Jared, recalls her excitement at finding a large (over 600 karat), pink tourmaline in the tailings that were being discarded.
“When she found that beautiful stone that had been discarded, she knew she wanted to set it herself. So, she took a bench class and that was the beginning of her design career.”
Like most things that were important to Corinne, she did it her way. She went back to school while raising two boys and working full-time, all the while dabbling in jewelry design. She worked many years at 18Karat in sales, then on to Ross-Simons before finishing her corporate career at Illumina Jewelry Gallery in Atlanta. After much deliberation with her husband, they felt ready to open their own gallery.
“Mom and Dad seriously considered moving to Mexico and opening a gallery there. They spent six months there and collected a tremendous amount of pottery and other handmade goods before deciding she couldn’t choose between jewelry or pottery. That’s when they returned to Atlanta and opened Alexia, featuring both items,” recalls Jared.
Corinne’s vision played out on the streets of downtown Decatur, a virtual melting pot of cultures, races and personalities. Corinne found her neighbors not only shared her passion for jewelry and art, but they embraced her as a friend, growing fond of the talented designer who always had a smile on her face.
A favorite pastime of Corinne’s was finding up-and-coming artists, potters, jewelry designers and woodworkers who wanted to be in Atlanta but needed a venue. She insisted on exclusivity and prided herself on offering her customers pieces they couldn’t get anywhere else in the big city. Her inventory changed often, with names of new artists that she proudly promoted.
“She would travel around the southeast to the art festivals to look for new artists to bring back to Alexia,” recalls Matt Herbst, her youngest son. “She was always finding new and unique pieces that she loved and, by extension, her clients loved too.”
Her own design abilities were in great demand as well, and she was willing to put all her effort into the gallery and the people who came into it. It wasn’t enough to simply sell them a piece of jewelry or a hand-blown pottery piece, she wanted to connect on a personal level with the person standing in front of her. Family and customers alike recall her uncanny ability to hone in on each person’s style, never trying to upsell any piece just to turn a profit.
When breast cancer hit over 3 years ago, Corinne faced it with the same determination and command with which she’d faced all other obstacles in her life; on her terms.
Refusing to give in to the illness, she insisted the doctors schedule surgery, chemo treatments and scans around the gallery’s schedule, which was closed on Mondays. Stating that “cancer needs to work on my schedule,” her family nicknamed the Monday-only doctor’s appointments Medical Monday, since she’d inevitably have numerous appointments stacked one behind the other.
Corinne Herbst’s love of gemstones led her to become a talented designer making unique pieces specifically designed for her customers’ individual personalities.
After a 3 year remission cycle, Corinne was given the terrible news that the cancer had returned in November 2012. The rocky road that lay before her didn’t deter her passion for her gallery, clients or her family. On January 16th the strong, creative, determined lady lost her battle to cancer, and a most precious, unique person left us with fond memories and original Corinne Herbst jewelry to remember her by.